Which is the largest plateau in India

by Bernd Basting

With this issue we continue the series of portraits of the states of India. They intend to do their part to counter the striking lack of German-language information about the ethnically, linguistically, culturally, politically and economically very different Indian regions and states. India is mostly represented in this country - stubbornly ignoring its diversity - as a monolithic unitary state. The country portraits Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Bihar have already been published in editions 2/97, 3/97, 6/97, 1-2 / 98 and 4/98 of 'South Asia'.

An army of pilgrims moves up the mountain like ants. We pass the "White Pond of the Ascetic", the holy temple of Adinatha, some of them screaming ecstatically, others praying softly, still others in quiet, hypnotic contemplation. And there he appears, the one longed for by the believers, Bahubali, the gigantic, simply beautiful colossus, rising 18 meters into the sky, sunk in deep meditation, smiling deeply contentedly because asceticism makes him happy. Now priests pour myriads of pots of milk, curd cheese, molten butter, saffron, poppy seeds, almonds, coconut milk and gold coins from the top of a huge scaffold onto the head of the sacred granite statue, which changes its color with each pass.

We are in Sravanabelagola, the most sacred of all Jain pilgrimage sites, on the Indragiri, a rocky hill in the highlands of the Deccan, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. It is mahamastakabhisheta ceremony. It takes place here every twelve years (the next time in 2005), in honor of Bahubali or Gomateshwara, as he is also called. The granite monolith statue - the largest on earth - has stood here in this place for over 1,000 years, commissioned by Ganga king Rachamalla, sculpted by the greatest sculptor of his time, Aristanemi.

The stone ascetic, adored by the Digambara ("the air-clad") Jains, owes his existence to the following legend: Bahubali and Bharata were sons of the Jain rulers of a north Indian kingdom who renounced his throne to become the first saint of the Jainas. His resignation sparked a bitter struggle for succession among his sons, from which Bahubali emerged victorious after a bloody battle. At the moment of his triumph he saw the immorality of violence and the futility of worldly success and material possessions. So he leaves the inheritance to his brother Bharata (who would later become the mythical forefather of India) and goes to a thousand-year ascetic penance in the forest. He can still be seen in this pose on the hill today. Legends, myths and stories - Karnataka is full of them.


The table land of Dekkan, upon which Sri Gomateshwara looks down, forms one of the oldest land formations on our planet; the so-called Gondwana Plateau was created at the beginning of the geological calendar. In contrast, the Indian state of Karnataka is still very young. It was founded in 1956 in the course of the federal structuring of the Indian Union, which had become independent, as a result of a merger of the former Principality of Mysore with the western, Kannada-speaking part of the former British colonial Madras Presidency. At first it traded under the name "Mysore", then renamed "Karnataka" ("Land of the Kannada-speaking people" or "black country", derived from "Kari" = black and "nadu" = country) by a resolution of the state parliament in 1972 to become.

Around 50 million people, called Kannada, live on 192,204 square kilometers - around six percent of the total area of ​​India. Often tall, of a calm and friendly nature, their dark, Dravidian facial features indicate that their homeland has always represented a crossroads where races, classes, religions and cultures came together, merged, mixed or coexisted peacefully.

The landscape is equally diverse and can be subdivided into three regions, each with its own character: The districts of North and South Kanara, which form the narrow but very fertile coastal strip on the Arabian Sea, lined with exotic palm trees, with lush green rice - and sugar cane fields. The central mountainous region, which is dominated by the towering mountain range of the West Ghats, and finally the Deccan highlands east of the Ghats, barren, arid, rocky and stony because the monsoons from the southeast cannot overcome the western flanks of the Ghats, rains down in front of it and leaves the Deccan in the rain shadow.

Karnataka's coastline - the location of many picturesque, lonely beaches - is nowhere wider than 65 km. The plain is crossed by a dozen rivers such as Cauvery, Krishna, Tungabadra, Malaprabha, Kali, Humavathi or Sharavathi. The latter offers a fascinating spectacle with its suddenly falling, bubbling waterfall cascades near the Jog Falls in the mid-west, not far from Gersoppa. During the monsoon months, between July and September, the currents transport huge masses of water into the sea, whereby the rust-red earth of Kanara turns into a bright green like a chameleon. In a country like India, water is a precious and often scarce commodity. For example, there was a decade-long conflict over the water distribution of the Cauvery between the southern Indian neighboring states, in particular Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, which only recently, at the beginning of August this year, was settled for the time being through an agreement brokered by the central government in New Delhi .

Both sides of the ghats are densely forested and adorned with large teak, sandalwood and bamboo plantations. Most months there is a climate which, with temperatures of 18 to 30 degrees Celsius, is extremely pleasant compared to many other regions of India, without extreme heat, not only in the five million capital Bangalore, which is almost 1,000 meters high, but also on the Country.


Despite its formal state, Karnataka is an old country steeped in history, as evidenced by countless monuments, early temples and ruined cities. The cult caves of Badami from the 6th century tell of the religious tolerance of the Chalukya rulers, who were to shape the course of South Indian history well into the 16th century. The Rashtrakuta in the 9th century presented the country with the great literary philosopher Amoghavarsha Nripatunga, who wrote a treatise on poetry that is still widely regarded today. And there were the princely families of the Kadambavan Hangal, the Sinda of Sindavadi, the Silhara of North Konkan; the Hoysala, to which the grandiose Hindu temples of Somnathpur, Belur and Halebid from the early 12th century are owed - with their incredibly finely carved relief friezes, the rich sculptural decorations and their ingenious overall arrangement, perhaps the greatest legacy of religious architecture in all of India.

Or the Rajas of Vijayanagara, who with their capital of the same name - the "City of Victory" - founded the center of the first southern Indian empire from 1336 onwards. 30 square kilometers in size and surrounded by seven concentric protective walls, 200,000 people lived there in its heyday - a cosmopolitan city that could withstand comparison with Paris and London at the time, with imposing buildings, lively, lavishly stocked bazaars, well-tended gardens and parks that were irrigated by a sophisticated network of canals were. Word of the splendor of this metropolis spread to Europe, China and Abyssinia. In 1565 the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire fell victim to Muslim aggressors in the Battle of Talikota. The Deccan sultans of Bahmani, who further to the north dominated a Muslim empire independent of the Delhi sultanate, possessed the superior force. The partly still very stately preserved ruins of the former Vijayanagara - now declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO - can be admired in today's Hampi; and the well-preserved traces of Muslim power in this part of southern India, which in fact lasted into the 18th century, can be seen in the magnificent forts, citadels, mosques and mausoleums of Bijapur, Bidar or Gulbarga.

With the end of the Vijayanagara Empire, the region of what is now Karnataka fell silent. That only changed again in the 18th century, when Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan made the country a politically important entity on the subcontinent again by creating an efficient administration and successful military ventures. For a long time the two succeeded in warding off the influence of the British colonizers, until Tipu Sultan finally had to bow to the European invaders - allied with the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad - in the infamous battle of Srirangapatna in 1799. But the "Tiger of Mysore" is still an admired historical figure among the Kannada, as with the Indians in general, and many pilgrimage to his former summer palace 'Daria Daulat' or his and his father's mausoleum 'Gumbaz', not far from Mysore.

After the battle, Mysore became the new royal seat and the British-friendly Wodeyar dynasty took over the scepter. You can convince yourself of the overwhelmingly eclectic artistic sense of the Wodeyars when you visit the gorgeous, colorful 'Mysore Palace'.

The actual power was then increasingly exercised in the 19th century by the British colonial rulers from Madras, in the summer from Bangalore, until after independence, in the 1950s, in the course of the federal formation of the Indian Union, it became the present day Could constitute a federal state and its policies could be determined by New Delhi and the state government in Bangalore.


The political culture in today's Karnataka is heavily influenced by caste arithmetic. The political elites are mainly recruited from members of the dominant "Vokkaliga" and "Lingayat" castes. The "Vokkaliga" are a large farmer caste and are often compared to the Punjab "Jat" because of their agricultural productivity. The "Lingayat" are more urban-oriented.

In the mighty government palace of Bangalore, in the 'Vidhana Soudha', the largest administrative building in India, mainly actors from the 'Congress' party or - since the 1980s - also the social democratic 'Janata-Dal' resided. Popular politicians in the country were Ramakrishna Hedge - the current Indian trade minister (who has since left the Janata and launched his own party 'Lok Shakti') - and Deve Gowda, who was even allowed to hold the office of Prime Minister of India in 1996, albeit only until 1997, when he fell victim to a vote of no confidence by the Congress Party in the Indian Parliament. Currently, J.H. Patel holds the post of Prime Minister of Karnataka, despite the fact that the ruling party 'Janata Dal' lost ground like a landslide in the last parliamentary elections in March this year, in favor of the Hindu national 'Bharatiya Janata Party' (BJP), which is 13 of the 28 in the state was able to book mandates to be won for itself, and the arch-rival 'Indian National Congress', which still won nine. It is precisely 'Janata' politicians like Hedge, Gowda and Patel who have made the agrarian state into a high-growth industrial country with considerable success.


As everywhere in India, the vast majority of the inhabitants still live in villages and from agriculture; in the plains of the east grain, cotton, oil and legumes, sugar cane and tobacco are cultivated; Forestry is practiced in the forests of the western ghats, areca, cashew and coconuts are grown on the long coast, and coffee and spices grow in the south. The city of Mysore is traditionally famous for the production of incense sticks, perfumes, sandalwood soap and silk fabrics. But the secondary and service sectors are gaining in importance thanks to a targeted state modernization policy that has been implemented since the mid-1980s.

There is mining industry in the form of the Kolar District gold mines; Paper and textile industry as well as the production of pharmaceuticals, clocks and cement. In 1994 tourism was also declared an independent, state-sponsored branch of industry in order to inspire domestic, but above all foreign visitors, for the country's scenic beauties and rich cultural heritage and to create new jobs. Much remains to be done in this regard, particularly in the area of ​​hotel and transport infrastructure. Local experts estimate that Karnataka has only exhausted five percent of its tourist potential and that at least 60,000 new jobs can be created in tourism in the future. Verve plans and builds new beach resorts, golf courses, water sports facilities, luxury hotels, streets and airports. For example, a modern - privately financed - airport is currently being built near Devanahalli, 32 km from Bangalore, and one is being discussed in Hassan, the constituency of Dewe Gowda and the starting point for Belur and Halebid's visit.

Karnataka is an attractive travel destination, not only because of its scenic charms and impressive historical or religious monuments, but also because of its rich culture.


Apart from tourism, the modern economic sectors have their center of gravity in Bangalore. Due to its high altitude in the Deccan, an often cool oasis in the heat-plagued south of the subcontinent, the "City of Boiled Beans" (Benda-kaluru) has become an internationally renowned location for aviation technology, machine and tool construction, watch manufacture and telecommunications , Electronics, electrical engineering and computer software industries developed. The latter industries earned it the name "Silicon Valley Asia".

Over 10,000 companies have settled in eight industrial areas; In addition to Indian, there are also countless multinational ones such as Siemens, Bosch, Wilkinson, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, Intel, IBM, AT&T, Nissan, Unilever, Swiss Air, British Aerospace, to name just the largest. Indian computer specialists are highly skilled and very inexpensive. An Indian programmer earns around 5,000 dollars a year - a fraction of what his colleagues in Europe or North America are paid for. That is the main reason why many companies write their programs here or have their problems in the computer system fixed via telecommunications satellite.

The successes of Karnataka and Bangalore in promising technology sectors by no means come from nowhere, but are the result of an important role played by research and technology, which is almost traditional there, as well as the committed economic and political modernization of its political actors. As early as 1914, the 'Indian Institute of Science' was established in Bangalore with funds from a Jamshedji Tatas foundation, which became an advisory institution and an active initiator for industrialization, and the first institution with multidisciplinary facilities for scientific research. After independence in '47, a number of state-owned companies pushed technological progress. Research results and patents in the field of laser and liquid crystal technology, aerospace technology and telecommunications accelerated this trend. Today there are 42 institutes for basic research and technological development in the state, e.g. the 'Indian Space Organization', the 'Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics', the 'Institute for Aerospace Medicine', the 'National Aerospace Laboratories', the 'Central Power Research' Institute 'or the' Electronics and Radar Development Establishment '. The future-oriented, foreign investment-attractive industrial policy is administered by institutions such as the 'Karnataka State Industrial and Investment Development Corporation' (KSIIDC) and the 'Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board'.


But there are also downsides in the country's economic successes and realities that still make it clear that Karnataka is still a long way from being a paradise of prosperity and happiness: only every second person can read and write, and a lot is missed in primary education 20 million illiterate people, more women than men, clearly express this.

In the country like in the yuppi center Bangalore or other cities, miserable poverty still exists.The per capita income of a little over 7,000 rupees for India, with which one ranks ninth out of 26 states in the Union, is just an average value that ignores the "modernization losers" and those vegetating at the subsistence level; the "Pavement Dwellers", day laborers, the children, women and men who struggle for life in the informal sector every day, the farm workers toiling for a meager wage, the wage laborers and the slum dwellers.

The work and living structures in Karnataka are still characterized by anachronistic, rigid caste differentiation; this becomes evident not only when walking through the diverse, separate city districts and craft districts in the metropolis. Sometimes the entire workforce of a factory goes on strike because the new head of department has been identified as Niederkastiger. Belonging to the same caste is also the norm when choosing a partner in the predominantly still arranged marriages. In the rural areas, the large landowners of the "Vokkaliga" caste determine the weal and woe of the lower caste peasant and agricultural workers.

The environmental situation is becoming increasingly precarious, especially in urban agglomerations: stinking mountains of rubbish, massive forest felling due to large dams and other energy and infrastructure projects, water shortage due to contamination of drinking water resources, extreme pollutant emissions due to industrial concentrations and increasing motor vehicle density. For example, the capital Bangalore, which, according to a World Bank study, is one of the three fastest growing cities in the world, despite its green parks and avenues, is now suffering from intolerable air and noise pollution; Anyone who has ever ridden a motor rickshaw from the picturesque Lal Bagh Park to the city center knows a thing or two about it, because their skin and clothing have turned black, their airways are tarry, and their ears have clearly lost their hearing. It is not uncommon for the city to have to be supplied with makeshift water from other regions.

All these "modernization effects" are also to be found elsewhere, in India and in "developing" countries in the south, but also here: in one of the "model countries" of the Union. So it is to be hoped that the up-and-coming Indian state of Karnataka, in conjunction with economic progress, will also succeed in a speedy change in its traditional, unjust social and caste structures, an increase in the educational and living standards of broader strata of the population and a more conscious and sustainable approach to dealing with them to reach the environment battered by the modernization mania.


(Source: South Asia, No. 5/1998, pp. 35-39)